Chapter One: Jerkus Highschoolensis
PRETTY PEOPLE DO UGLY THINGS.
It was one of those laws of nature that Gaia had understood for years. If she ever started to forget that ride for a second, there always seemed to be some good-looking asshole ready to remind her.
She stumbled up the steps and pushed her way inside The Village School with five minutes to spare before her first class. Actually early. Of course, her hair was still wet from the shower and her homework wasn't done, but being there -- actually physically inside the building before the bell rang -- was a new experience. For twelve whole seconds after that, she thought she might have an all right day.
Then she caught a glimpse of one of those things that absolutely defines the high school circle of hell.
Down at the end of the row of lockers, a tall, broad-shouldered guy was smiling a very confident smile, wearing very popular-crowd clothes, and using a very big hand to pin a very much smaller girl up against the wall. There was an amused expression on Mr. Handsome's face.
Only the girl who was stuck between his hand and fifty years' worth of ugly green paint didn't look like she thought it was funny.
Gaia had noticed the big boy in a couple of her classes but hadn't bothered to file away his name. Tad, she thought, or maybe it was Chip. She knew it was something like that.
From the way girls in class talked, he was supposed to be cute. Gaia could sort of see it. Big blue eyes. Good skin. Six-five even without the air soles in his two-hundred-dollar sneakers. His lips were a little puffy, but then, some people liked that. It was the hair that really eliminated him from Gaia's list of guys worth looking at.
He wore that stuff in his hair. The stuff that looked like a combination of motor oil and maple syrup. The stuff that made it look like he hadn't washed his hair this side of tenth grade. "What's the rush, Darla?" the Chipster said. "I just want to know what he said to you."
The girl, Darla, shook her head. "He didn't..."
Her big pal gave her a little love pat -- enough to bounce her from the wall and back to his beefy hand.
"Don't give me that" he said, still all smiles. "I saw you two together."
Gaia did a quick survey of the hall. There was a trio of khaki-crowd girls fifty yards down and two leather dudes hanging near the front door. A skinny guy stuck his head out of a classroom, saw who was doing the shoving, and quickly ducked back in. Gaia had to give him some credit. At least he looked. Everybody else in the hallway was Not Noticing so hard, it hurt.
Gaia really didn't need this. She didn't know the girl against the wall. Sure, the guy with the big hands was a prime example of Jerkus highschoolensis, but it was absolutely none of Gaia's business. She turned away and headed for class, wondering if she might avoid a tardy slip for the first time in a week.
"Just let me...," the girl begged from behind her.
"In a minute, babe," replied the guy with the hands. "I just need to talk to you a little." There was a thump and a short whimper from the girl.
Gaia stopped. She really, really didn't need this.
She took a deep breath, turned, and headed back toward the couple.
The easiest thing would be to grab the guy by the face and teach him how soft a skull was compared to a concrete wall. But then, smashing someone's head would probably not help Gaia's reputation.
Words were an option. She hadn't used that method much, but there was a first time for everything, right?
She could try talking to the guy or even threatening to tell a teacher. Gaia didn't care if anyone at the school thought she was a wimp or a narc, or whatever they called it in New York City. That was the least of her problems. Besides, they already thought she was a bitch for not warning Heather about the park slasher.
Before long, Gaia was so close that both partners in the ugly little dance turned to look at her. Tough Guy's smile didn't budge an inch.
"What?" he said.
Gaia struggled for something to say. Something smooth. Something that would defuse this whole thing. She paused for a second, cleared her throat, and said...
"Is there...uh, some kind of a problem?"
The guy who might be named Chip took a twosecond look at her face, then spent twice as long trying to size up the breasts under Gaia's rumpled football shirt.
"Nothing you gotta worry about," he said, still staring at her chest. He waved the hand that wasn't busy holding a person. "This is a private conversation!"
The girl against the wall looked at Gaia with a big-eyed, round-mouthed expression that could have been fear or hope or stupidity. Gaia's instant impression was that it was a little bit of all three. The girl had straight black hair that was turned up in a little flip, tanned-to-a-golden-brown skin, an excess of eye shadow, and a cheerleading uniform. She didn't exactly strike Gaia as a brain trust.
Not that being a cheerleader automatically made somebody stupid. Gaia was certain there were smart cheerleaders. Somewhere there had to be cheerleaders who were working on physics theories every time they put down their pompoms. She hadn't met any, but they were out there. Probably living in the same city with all the nice guys who don't mind if a girl has thunder thighs and doesn't know how to dress.
"Well?" demanded Puffy Lips. "What's wrong with you? Are you deaf or just stupid?"
Gaia tensed. Anger left an acid taste in her throat. Suddenly her fist was crying out for his face. She opened her mouth to say something just as the bell for first period rang. So much for being on time.
She took a step closer to the pair. "Why don't you let her go?"
Chip made a little grunting laugh and shook his head. "Look, babe. Get out of here," he said to Gaia.
Babe. It wasn't necessarily an insult -- unless the person saying it added that perfect tone of voice. The tone that says being a babe is on the same evolutionary rung as being a brain-damaged hamster.
Gaia glanced up the hallway. Only a few students were still in the hall, and none were close. If she planned to do anything without everyone in school seeing it, this was the time.
She leaned toward him. "Maybe you'd better get out of here," she said in a low voice. She could feel the cheerleader's short breaths on the back of her neck. "You don't want to be late for class."
The sunny smile slipped from Chip's face, replaced by a go-away-you're-bothering-me frown. "Did you hear me tell you to go?"
Gaia shrugged. It was coming. That weird rush she sometimes felt.
"I heard you. I just didn't listen."
Now the expression on Chip's face was more like an I-guess-I'm-going-to-have-to-teach-you-how-the-world-works sneer. "Get the hell out of my way," he snapped.
He took his hand off Darla and grabbed Gaia by the arm.
Gaia was glad. If she touched him first, there was always the chance he would actually admit he got beat up by a girl and charge her with assault. But since Chip made the first move, all bets were off. Everything that happened from that first touch was self-defense.
Gaia was an expert in just about every martial art with a name. Jujitsu. Tai kwon do. Judo. Kung fu. If it involved hitting, kicking, or tossing people through the air, Gaia knew it. Standing six inches from Mr. Good Skin Bad Attitude, she could have managed a kick that would have taken his oily head right of off his thick neck. She could have put a stiff hand through his rib cage or delivered a punch that drove his heart up against his spine.
But she didnt do any of that. She wanted to, but she didn't.
Moving quickly, she turned her arms and twisted out of his grip. Before Chip could react, she reached across with her left hand, took hold of the guys right thumb, and gave it just a little...push.
For a moment Puffy Lips Chip looked surprised. Then Gaia pushed a little harder on his captive digit, and the look of surprise instantly turned to pain.
He tried to pull away, but Gaia held tight. She was working hard to keep from actually breaking his thumb. She could have broken his whole oversized hand like a bundle of big dry sticks. The real trick was hurting someone without really hurting someone. Don't break any bones. Don't leave any scars. Don't do anything permanent. Leave a memory.
"What do you think, Chip?" Gaia asked, still pushing his thumb toward the back of his hand. "Should you be shoving girls around?"
"Let go of me, you little -- " He reached for her with his free hand.
Gaia leaned back out of his range and gave an extra shove. Chip wailed.
"Here's the deal," Gaia said quietly. "You keep your hands to yourself, I let you keep your hands. What do you think?"
Chip's knees were starting to shake, and there were beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. "Who are -- "
"Like I really want you to know my name." She pushed harder, and now Gaia could feel the bones in his thumb pulling loose from his hand. Another few seconds and one was sure to snap. "Do we have a deal?"
"Okay," he squeaked in a voice two octaves higher than it had been a few seconds before. "Sure."
Gaia let go. "That"s good, Chip" The moment the physical conflict ended, Gaia felt all her uncertainty come rushing back. She glanced up the hallway and was relieved to see that there was no crowd of gawkers. That didn't stop her from feeling dizzy. She was acting like muscle-bound freak girl right in the main hallway at school. This was definitely not the way to remain invisible.
Puffy Lips stepped back and gripped his bruised thumb in his left hand. "Brad."
"Brad" he said. "My name isn't Chip. It's Brad"
Gaia rolled her eyes. "Whatever." She lowered her head and shoved past him just as the late bell rang.
Another day, another fight, another tardy.
Copyright © 2000 by Francine Pascal